Excerpt from “History of Alachua County” by Joanna Grey Talbot
The name Alachua comes from the area’s first settlers, the Timucuan Indians. Sinkholes, such as the Great Sink in the Alachua Savannah (now Paynes Prairie), were called “chua” and eventually mapmakers began naming the area “Allachua” or “Lachua.” After Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto’s year of destruction and plunder in 1539, Catholic priests and Franciscan missionaries from St. Augustine traveled to the interior with the hopes of converting the Native Americans to Christianity. By 1655, missions included a large cattle ranch, Rancho de la Chua, on the northern edge of the Alachua Savannah.
The area changed hands among the Spanish, French and English over the next 281 years until Spain ceded Florida to the United States in 1821. Alachua County, created in 1824, stretched from the Georgia border to the Gulf of Mexico as far south as Port Charlotte. Its early settlers established towns such as Hogtown, Micanopy, Newnansville and Gainesville.
Chartered in 1853, David Yulee’s Florida Railway proposed to connect Fernandina with Cedar Key and Tampa. The proposed route bypassed the county seat, Newnansville, so the county commission moved the county seat to the newly named Gainesville. The first railroad arrived in Gainesville in 1859, and Downtown Gainesville became a center of agriculture and industry. Railroads led to the founding of the towns of Waldo, Archer, Hawthorne, Melrose, Campville and Rochelle.
Ways to Explore
- Downtown Gainesville Cell Phone Tour – Walk, bike, or drive around downtown and learn about the history of Gainesville, Florida with the convenience of your cell phone.
- Tour Alachua County Towns – Intern Hannah White created a wonderful tour of towns throughout Alachua County, highlighting historic buildings.
- Read Magazine and Newspaper Articles – Matheson History Museum staff frequently write articles about local history for Alachua County newspapers and magazines.